How to get a warm, energy-efficient home now and into the future
Improving your BER rating is a great way to reduce bills. Potential savings from switching your mortgage along with access to grants could be the way to create your own cosy home
One major benefit to an energy retrofit is that a BER rating generally translates to a higher resale value of the property. Photographs: Getty Images
This winter our homes will be our havens. We are likely to be working from them, relaxing in them and we will likely be using more light, heat and energy than ever before as a result. Lots are thinking about an energy retrofit right now too, because insulation and heating upgrades can greatly improve comfort levels in the home – as well as reducing our energy bills.
So, in part seven of our Switch it Up series, we’re talking to two experts who explain how to maximise the efficiency of our homes.
Many of us are a bit bamboozled by the process of upgrading our properties, and are unaware of the grants available to help us to bring our home from a low building energy rating (BER) to a higher one.
A BER is a grading, from the highest at A1, to the lowest at G, on how much energy a home requires for heating, hot water, lighting and ventilation. The goal for many is to have an A-rated home. Better for the environment, achieving it will save you lots in energy bills – but many homes are nowhere near this grade.
Architect Gearoid Carvill of ABGC Architects explains what a bad BER means for a property and how to achieve a better one. “CSO statistics tell us that more than 50 per cent of housing in Ireland is D-rated or lower, so most of us have direct experience of bad BERs. Typically, a lower grade means that the house is more expensive to run.
“Studies show that improving BERs add value to homes and that changing up one level, say from C2 to C1, equates to a 1 per cent increase in property value,” he says.
To improve a BER, the simplest and most inexpensive changes can help. “I have seen refurbishment projects where you could improve the rating by swapping out the light bulbs with LEDs,” he reveals.
When considering a more significant energy efficient retrofit of a property, Carvill recommends homeowners start with the ‘thermal envelope’ – that’s the walls, floors, roof and windows.
“In an uninsulated home, a third of the heat is lost through the roof,” he says. “Insulate your attic with a minimum of 350mm quilt insulation in layers between, and above the ceiling timbers. You could also insulate the water tank if uncovered.”
“Then look to heating controls and update your heating system. You could replace an oil or gas boiler with a heat pump or by adding solar, to heat hot water, which can be done with an existing tank. Update heating to controls for time, temperature and zonal, if feasible. An individual thermostat costs from €70 to €200. Thermostatic radiator valves sense the temperature in the room and adjust the flow. They are inexpensive, less than €20 a radiator,” he adds.
Wall insulation and window upgrades go together. The cost of insulating a compact three bed semi-detached property could be around €14,000 to €16,000, but significant grants exist towards the work. The price for triple-glazed AluClad windows will be similar, he adds.
Typically the average 3-bed semi-detached property will perform much better and be more comfortable once work is done.
In terms of your energy costs, “previously published data by the SEAI suggests that for a 3-bedroom semi, the costs per annum could be €190 for an A1-rated home, and €4,000 for the G-rated home,” he says.
While there are significant costs attached to many of the works, grants of up to €6,000 are available for most of them from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).
Tom Halpin, head of communications with SEAI, says to apply for a grant, start with a BER assessment carried out by a SEAI-registered assessor. The certificate and advisory report provided will explain what works can be undertaken to improve the home’s energy performance, and what works should be prioritised.
There are a range of grants available. “There are grants for attic and wall insulation which make the home cosier and keep in heat,” he says.
“Once you have sealed your home and it is more efficient, you move to improving the heating system. Grants for heating controls are available and we are also encouraging renewable heating systems in the home – that could be solar panels to generate hot water or going all the way towards using a heat pump. The lowest grant is €400 for attic insulation and highest is €6,000 for external wall insulation on a detached house,” Halpin says.
Once you have decided on the works you want to have carried out, the process of applying for a grant is quite simple.
“You must decide what contractor you want to use – and there are hundreds of contractors from across the country listed on the SEAI website that are committed to the terms and conditions of the grant scheme. They have the properly qualified staff to do the work and can be inspected by us at any time,” he says.
“You need a metre point reference number which is written at the top of a bill from your electricity supplier. You then go online, put in all your details and select the measures you would like to undertake, and the contractor that you want to use, and you will get almost an instantaneous approval if all of that is in order.
“You then have eight months in which to get the works done. Once you get the offer, you can schedule works with various contractors. Grants are paid directly into your bank account or can be paid directly to the contractor. You must then get a BER assessment carried out after the works to see the uplift to the property,” he finishes.
Homeowners can also engage with energy supply companies such as SSE and ESB, which offer to manage the works as it helps towards their energy reduction targets.
One major benefit to an energy retrofit is that a BER rating generally translates to a higher resale value of the property. However, Halpin says this isn’t usually a homeowner’s motivation.
“The first big benefit is the comfort in their home, and research has shown people realise immediately that comfort,” he adds.
For retrofit refurbishment there’s a holy trinity, Gearoid Carvill says. It is “comfort, economy and environment. If done right you should achieve all three, regardless of which is your priority.”
About Switch it Up
Switch it Up is a new 12-part series for those who might be considering switching mortgage provider to make savings on their monthly repayments. It is a follow-up to the award-winning Story of Home series, which explored the idea of home through the eyes of creative people who found their dream place to live.
Now, Switch it Up, which like Story of Home is supported by Ulster Bank, looks at helpful information on home improvements as well as renovators’ home tours. Plus, we’ve got helpful answers to your mortgage switching queries: from the incentives to how long it will take (not long!) and what’s involved in making a mortgage switch, read our Everything you need to know about switching your mortgage guide at irishtimes.com/switchitup.
Perhaps now more than ever, we want our homes to suit the way we live and work, and being able to explore the potential in our homes offers us flexibility. This series is designed to unlock the ways in which we might Switch it Up in our homes as our wants and needs change.
Switching your mortgage could free up funds to help you make these changes. “At Ulster Bank, we want to be a part of the journey you take in making your home the best it can be,” says Sean Kellaghan, mobile mortgage manager at Ulster Bank.
“We want to make the mortgage switching process as simple and as hassle free as you do,” he adds. Kellaghan understands the stress that can come with making a switch, and he offers reassurance.
“We are here to help you, and the process is a lot shorter and a lot more straightforward than you might think. Get in touch today and we can talk you through the options and process.”
For more information, visit ulsterbank.ie
Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland